History teaches us that history teaches us nothing. – Hegel
That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history. - Aldous Huxley
[This post was originally posted on September 11, 2014 as “9/11 And Lessons Not Learned”. The original post is reposted here in its entirety.]
As 9/11 approaches and we remember the 13th anniversary of the heinous acts that were carried out on that fateful day, I have decided that my annual musing honoring this day ends with this post.
Like many who lived and worked in the area on 9/11, I take time on September 11 to sit in quiet contemplation and remember the 15 friends I lost on that day, especially Narender Nath, Eric Bennett and Stephen Fiorelli who all died in the WTC and my neighbour's brother, Edward Felt, who was killed on Flight 93.
When we take time to remember and honor those who were lost, whether it be on 9/11 or all those in service to our nation in the form of the military, police, firefighters, EMS and other first responders, we do so to not only remember who they were and what they represented but also with the hope that their loss was not in vain.
However, as we once again bomb a new enemy in Iraq 13 years later, as we test the limits of Russia (and they test ours) in the Ukraine and as we face unprecedented exposure and threat to our safety and national security via cyber attack (amongst other concerns), I can’t help but think that their losses were indeed in vain.
13 years later, we have not learned a damned thing.
Why should we have? We are creatures of habit and often are unable to change our behaviour until our backs are against the wall. To expect us to make changes to our culture and behavior merely because of one event, even one as shocking as 9/11, is to ignore a basic understanding of what motivates a human being to action and to ignore thousands of years of history.
Unfortunately, the next time our backs are against the wall, what we face may be too large to stare down or to overcome with human perseverance, ingenuity or whatever else politicians like to offer as empty praise when we overcome a tragedy born of their abuse of power, incompetence, laziness, denial, greed, fear or lack of transparency / accountability.
And while there is MUCH beauty in the world and GREAT stories of overcoming, it is offset by the potential for great threat to our well-being on national and international levels.
It’s important to celebrate what is right in the world and to highlight those who make the world a better place.
But people in my line of work have to keep an eye on the stupid, the ignorant, the criminal and the misinformed who would rather our world not reach its ultimate positive potential.
After all, it only takes one stupid act by a small group of people (elected or not) to wipe out all of the combined great deeds, works of inspiration and the great potential that humanity represents.
The Bottom Line
Just as with 9/11, the threats to our safety are real despite the incredible beauty in our world. Our ability to be informed citizens so as to be able to respond to such threats or protect ourselves from them is insufficient for our needs for a variety of reasons - some valid, some not. To pretend that the world is only filled with beauty and that peace and love overcome everything (with no other action required) are the beliefs of the misinformed.
And so when I think of the friends I lost and I look at what we are doing 13 years later, I don’t think our actions are honoring them.
In fact, I think our actions are disgracing them, suggesting that their loss was indeed in vain – a tragic, unnecessary loss of Life that is doomed to be repeated for an as-yet unsuspecting, unknowing group of victims.
And when it happens, we will act surprised, shocked and outraged yet again and then we will return to our normal programming.
I think there is a more honorable way to acknowledge the loss of those during 9/11 and it isn’t with pithy writings, emotional memorials, tear-laden get-togethers, shouts reminiscent of “Remember the Alamo” and the like while we continue to sow the seeds that created events like 9/11 in the first place.
It’s with action that truly produces a safer world for our children and not action that guarantees to recreate that which we have already suffered.
It’s with public accountability regarding those in power, elected or not.
It’s with standing up for what we believe is right while we still have something to stand up for and not waiting for someone else to fix it for us.
Otherwise we end up merely proving the old adage:
History is written by the survivors. – Yale Book of Quotations
Hopefully you are one of them.
What do you think?
How badly do you want a better world for your children?
Good – what are you waiting for?
In service and servanthood and in memory of those who were lost on 9/11 or in service to their nation.
PS (added September 11, 2015) Many of us who were in NYC on 9/11 and who lost friends, relatives and loved ones on that day may wander off in silence on occasion today, we may tell you a story we've told you a thousand times or we may still mist up all these years later. We may tell a funny story, we may cry or we may be angry. It's ok and we're ok - just humor us a little and let us have our moment. You don't have to say anything - just being there matters.
- 9/11 And Lessons Not Learned (Original Post) – September 11, 2014
- 9/11–What Have We Learned After 12 Years? – September 11, 2013
- September 11 - What Have We Learned? – September 11, 2012
- 9/11, Conspiracies and Communication Failure – September 11, 2011
Addendum – Narender Nath - September 11, 2015
I receive many emails about Narender through the years, from family, friends and people who have been made aware of him. For those who may have noticed, he touched me profoundly and as a result, I have written about him many times. Here are other blog posts (in no particular order) that I have written where I describe Narender’s impact on myself and others.
- Accountability and Authenticity
- When In Doubt, Ask - The Answer May Surprise You
- Carpe Diem–Do We Know What It Means?
- Seeking Positive out of the Negative
- September 11 - What Have We Learned?
- The Power of Regret
- Yellow Shirt Day – The Importance of Tradition
- 9/11 And Lessons Not Learned
- 9/11–What Have We Learned After 12 Years?
- 9/11, Conspiracies and Communication Failure
- Authenticity – A Personal Assessment 8 Years After 9/11
- Living a Life of Gratitude
Addendum 2 – What Have We Really Learned? – September 15, 2015
Articles like these two reinforce (at least to me) that we have learned very little over the years:
- America will pay the price for Obama’s Iran deal ‘victory’ - NY Post Op Ed. – September 12, 2015
- Devo's Jerry Casale Says 9/11-Themed Wedding Cake & Party Favors Were a 'Surprise' - using the World Trade Center as a wedding cake and passing out box cutters, the preferred weapon of the 9/11 terrorists, as party favors on the anniversary of 9/11 are extremely questionable in intention and sensitivity for a nation in mourning – September 14, 2015
Addendum 3 – Making Jokes from 9/11 - September 11, 2016
Watching an ad by a mattress company where they made fun of the tragedy of that day demonstrates that not only have we not learned anything but that we don't know how to be sensitive to others whose lives were changed forever on that day. The company that launched that ad has since shut down as noted here.
Will we ever learn?